Fish and other animals produce their own sunscreen

udjgIn the study published in the journal eLife, scientists found that zebrafish are able to produce a chemical called gadusol that protects against UV radiation. They successfully reproduced the method that zebrafish use by expressing the relevant genes in yeast. The findings open the door to large-scale production of gadusol for sunscreen and as an antioxidant in pharmaceuticals.

“The fact that the compound is produced by fish, as well as by other animals including birds, makes it a safe prospect to ingest in pill form,” says Professor Taifo Mahmud, lead author of the study.

However, further studies will be needed to test if and how gadusol is absorbed, distributed, and metabolised in the body to check its efficacy and safety.

Gadusol was originally identified in cod roe and has since been discovered in the eyes of the mantis shrimp, sea urchin eggs, sponges, and in the dormant eggs and newly hatched larvae of brine shrimps. It was previously thought that fish can only acquire the chemical through their diet or through a symbiotic relationship with bacteria.

Marine organisms in the upper ocean and on

Countering caregiver placebo effect in pets

ukyiklyHow do you know that your pet is benefiting from its pain medication? A new clinical trial design could help overcome pet owners’ unconscious observation bias and determine whether the drugs they test are effective.

When animals are recruited for clinical trials, particularly for pain medications, researchers must rely on owner observation to determine whether the medication is working. Sounds simple enough, but as it turns out, human and animal behavior can affect the results.

All clinical trials have a “control” — often a set of participants that receive a placebo in place of the medication. In human trials researchers have long struggled with the placebo effect — the psychological impact that the patient’s belief in the treatment can have on his or her condition. To get around this, researchers put a lot of effort into developing tools sensitive enough to distinguish between the placebo effect and the medication’s “real” effect.

“In veterinary medicine, we’re one step removed from the patient, and so we run into what we call the ‘caregiver placebo effect,’ which is how we refer to a number of factors

Electronic training collars present welfare risk to pet dogs

rmjthmdThe results of a recent study have revealed that the immediate effects of training pet dogs with an electronic collar cause behavioural signs of distress, particularly when used at high settings.

The research, conducted by animal behaviour specialists at the University of Lincoln, UK, indicates that, in the sample of dogs studied, there are greater welfare concerns around the use of so-called “shock collars” than with positive reward-based training.

The results have been published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS One.

There are arguments for and against the use of electronic training collars (or e-collars), with groups on both sides having a real concern about dog welfare and wanting to do what is best for their pet.

Nevertheless, limited studies have been conducted on the use of e-collars in the pet population. Academics at the University of Lincoln investigated the performance and welfare consequences of training dogs in the field with manually operated electronic devices.

The research followed a preliminary study using a small sample of dogs that had largely been referred for training because of chasing sheep. Results

A super tiny giraffe

Shaahin Amini was ready to quit. The Ph.D. student at the University of California, Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering had spent three hours looking into a microscope scanning a maze of black-and-white crosshatched lines, tubes and beads made of nickel, aluminum and carbon magnified 3,800 times.

Then he saw it. It looked like some kind of animal. He zoomed in further. It now looked like the road runner from the Bugs Bunny cartoons. He rotated it. Bingo! A sheep? No, a giraffe. A 0.05 millimeter giraffe.

He spent a few hours using Photoshop to add brown for the skin patches, red for the tongue and green in the background to resemble a jungle. It was done.

He submitted the piece to the Science as Art competition at 2012 MRS (Materials Research Society) Spring Meeting in San Francisco. Amini’s piece, which was one of about 150 entries, was selected by the chairs of the meeting as one of the 50 finalists from throughout the world to be displayed in the exhibition hall. Meeting attendees voted on the winners and selected Amini’s piece as one of the first-place winners.

“Exploration under the microscope

Bone eating worms dined on marine reptile carcasses

A species of bone-eating worm that was believed to have evolved in conjunction with whales has been dated back to prehistoric times when it fed on the carcasses of giant marine reptiles.

Scientists at Plymouth University found that Osedax — popularised as the ‘zombie worm’ — originated at least 100 million years ago, and subsisted on the bones of prehistoric reptiles such as plesiosaurs and sea turtles.

Reporting in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters this month, the research team at Plymouth reveal how they found tell-tale traces of Osedax on plesiosaur fossils held in the Sedgwick Museum at the University of Cambridge.

Dr Nicholas Higgs, a Research Fellow in the Marine Institute, said the discovery was important for both understanding the genesis of the species and its implications for fossil records. “The exploration of the deep sea in the past decades has led to the discovery of hundreds of new species with unique adaptations to survive in extreme environments, giving rise to important questions on their origin and evolution through geological time.” said Nicholas. “The unusual adaptations and striking beauty of Osedax worms encapsulate the alien nature of deep-sea life in

Cats put sight over smell in finding food

Cats may prefer to use their eyes rather than follow their nose when it comes to finding the location of food, according to new research by leading animal behaviourists.

Felines have a tremendous sense of smell and vision, but the new study by researchers at the University of Lincoln, UK, has for the first time investigated which sense they prefer to use under test conditions — and suggested sight may be more important than smell.

A group of six cats were placed in a maze which had ‘decision’ points — and the cats had to choose which avenue they took based on their preference for using images or smell. They were simultaneously presented with two squares of paper, each containing a different visual and odour cue. One combination of stimuli indicated they would receive a food reward, whereas the other led to no reward.

Once the cats had learned the rules of the game and received food rewards for correctly choosing either the visual stimulus or the olfactory stimulus, the researchers separated the cues (visual versus olfactory) to investigate whether the cats were using their eyes or nose to solve the task.

Distinct bone structures keep these animals upright

Researchers at the Royal Veterinary College have identified a highly specialised ligament structure that is thought to prevent giraffes’ legs from collapsing under the immense weight of these animals. “Giraffes are heavy animals (around 1000 kg), but have unusually skinny limb bones for an animal of this size” explained lead investigator Christ Basu, a PhD student in the Structure & Motion Lab. “This means their leg bones are under high levels of mechanical stress.”

In giraffes, the equivalents to our metatarsal bone (in the foot) and metacarpal bone (in the hand) are extremely elongated, accounting for roughly half the leg length. A distinct groove runs along the length of these bones, housing a structure called the suspensory ligament. This structure is found in other large animals, such as horses (which are well known for their ability to sleep whilst standing), but this is the first time that it has been studied in giraffes.

The researchers hypothesised that this arrangement may help solve the mystery of how the giraffes’ spindly legs can support its weight. To test this, the researchers received donations of limbs from EU zoos; these came from giraffes which had died

Researcher finds rare Vietnamese rabbit

A rare and elusive rabbit has been found, held and photographed by a researcher from the University of East Anglia (UEA).

The Annamite Striped rabbit, found in the forests of Laos and Vietnam, was first documented by rabbit expert Dr Diana Bell and colleagues from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences in the journal Nature in 1999. It has rarely been seen since.

Researcher Sarah Woodfin, who is studying for a Masters in Applied Ecology and Conservation at UEA, set out on a three-month expedition to track the recently-discovered rabbit and study its habitat.

But she didn’t expect to see one in the flesh, let alone become the first researcher to hold one in her arms.

Under the tutelage of Dr Bell and in collaboration with a team from WWF Vietnam, she embarked on her trip to study the rabbit — which is named after its home in the Annamite mountains.

She said; “I didn’t expect that I would ever see one up close. I thought that if I was very lucky, I might see one from a distance in the forest. I certainly never expected that I would have the